The geek world is dominated by those of the male persuasion. For those of us working in a technology related field, or who spend a considerable amount of time pursuing high tech leisure, we usually find women to be in the minority. I’ve seen considerable discussion over the years on how to change this imbalance but I think it is safe to say that right now that it remains. Many women are interested in using technology, they just don’t want to dive in to quite the same depth. Or they may not be interested in the way most men approach it. Columnist and tech-writer Christina Tynan-Wood has attempted to come to their rescue with her book How To Be A Geek Goddess.
I have to say that the title misled me. I picked this book up thinking that it would be perfect for my wife. I wouldn’t call her a geek, she doesn’t have the same passion for working with tech stuff that I have. But she is knowledgeable and knows quite a bit more about IT than many of my guy friends. She is very comfortable working with vi and has written a decent amount of C over the years for various embedded shops. Unfortunately she found the book to be overly basic and wasn’t too interested. This book is about becoming conversant in the very basics, explained with an attempt to frame everything in terms of a woman’s perspective. So if you are a woman who is already very comfortable in the IT space, or if you are thinking of buying this for someone like that, you may want to dig through a copy and see if it will be useful. My guess is that it wont.
The other group that may still find this book to be useful, but to a lesser degree than they may like is anyone using any operating system other than windows. The first chapter, which discusses how to purchase a computer frames the operating systems question as “Apple or Windows?” There is no mention of any other option. As far as the options given, the author lands pretty firmly on the side of Microsoft and so when platform plays a role in topics covered later in the book it is pretty much from a Windows perspective. There are plenty of topics covered that are not really OS dependent, such as anything web related (which is a lot of the book) or the non-computer sections covering hardware like digital cameras, monitors and PDAs.
Someone who is an avid computer user and die hard fan of Linux or Apple systems may look at what I’ve just said and decide that this book is completely useless. And for them that is going to pretty much be the case. That leaves the question of who could use this book. It is quite possible that this could be an absolute God-send to someone who is just about computer illiterate and quite content to stay on the dominant platform of the day. By extension this could become a useful tool for the true Geek that wants off the support treadmill.
There are probably some out there who are really tired of answering questions about what type of PC to buy. Or having to drop by a relative or friend’s house to set up wireless or the new printer. It could even be worse, being dragged into Frys Electronics or Best Buy and participating in purchasing a new Vista machine. The solution to busting out of that cycle could be handing over a copy of this book, and if it brings true freedom it could be worth every penny.
The topics covered in the book are dressed up in analogies to what may be considered more traditional female fare. If you find this to be bothersome, don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger. Tynan-Wood discusses for instance, building a software “wardrobe.” And I’d like to note that within the Windows space she does offer up many free (as in speech and beer) applications including the likes of The Gimp, Pidgin and Audacity. Tech accessories are handled in a section on “The Lust for Luxury Gear”. Setting up a new system and getting things dialed in is part of the “housebreaking” process. In fact if you’ve ever flipped through an issue of Cosmo or Vogue, you should have a decent idea of the tone and style of discourse in this book.
All of the basics are covered including setting up a home network and how to set up proper security. Each section gives basic and practical advice on making decisions on hardware and software, almost always offering multiple options. And while the packaging is different than anything I’ve ever seen in a tech book, the underlying information is the same. Someone who reads this through will come away knowing the difference between adware, spyware and viruses as well as what a botnet is.
Dispersed amongst the regular text, which is accompanied by many black and white illustrations, are little “Dear Abby” type questions and their accompanying response. These give a good insight into the level of reader the book aims to help. One question answered is the following, “When my sister-in-law emails me files, the filenames always have three letters at the end that mean nothing to me. Files on my own computer don’t seem to have them, so I thought it was one of her crazy systems. I deleted the letters and gave the files names I liked. Oops. You are probably laughing at me because I obviously did something stupid. Now my computer can’t open any of those files. It gave me a good excuse not to read her novel or look at 2,000 blurry vacation photos but what did I do wrong?” The answer goes on to explain file types, extensions and some basics on managing them in windows.
Along with covering how to purchase and set up hardware the book covers the same for software. There is also information on security, not just local but also how to think about safely navigating the web and what is available there. The last two sections cover the social web and relationships on line, with everything from dating sites to cyber sex. There is also an entire section on watching over children and helping them to use computers safely.
The information is accurate and covers the basics very well, within the parameters I’ve described above. For the proverbial grandmother or mom at home, this book is probably going to give them all they need and probably just a touch more than they may want. I guess that is the bottom line. I think this book will give a novice a strong sense of confidence and independence. I am sure there are women out there who don’t want to rely on anyone else to help them with computer issues but they don’t want to really dig deep into highly technical information. This may be exactly what they need.
On the other hand, and I guess this comes from my more cynical side, I’ve dealt with plenty of men and women who don’t know much about computers and they don’t want to know. They seem to revel in their ignorance and are quite happy to just rely on others to keep things working for them. Unfortunately I am unaware of any way to make them read this or to make the information their own. Reading books to learn tends to fall into a geek category of its own. Until there actually is a series on this in Cosmo or they find a way to fit into American Idol or something, there will still probably be those who call on us to take care of their gear.
All that said, sometimes I forget that I’m a statistical anomaly. Most people don’t run Linux, or OS X for that matter. Even more could care less about why they difference between ogg and mp3. For that mass of folks out there, especially the women, this may be the only computer book they ever find interesting. Someone like that would probably rate it a ten. I found the focus too narrow and the title set up expectations I didn’t think it met so I’ve knocked it down to seven.
Title: How To Be A Geek Goddess
Author: Christina Tynan-Wood
Publisher: No Starch Press
Tagline: Practical advice for using computers with smarts and style.